In March, I wrote about moving overseas and what makes those of us who do so step so far out of our comfort zones. As many of you who have moved overseas this summer have probably discovered, the decision to move to a new country is just the first of many times in your expat life that you step outside your comfort zone. At the moment you may be feeling that every time you step outside your door you’re stepping outside your comfort zone. Simple things you take for granted in your home country may be feeling overwhelming. Language can make a simple trip to the grocery store or a phone call seem challenging. Cultural differences mean that everyday tasks are done differently and you don’t know where to begin. You may be uncomfortable making small talk with new people but none of your friends and family are around. By now, the initial excitement of living in a new country is probably wearing off leaving behind the reality of living your life in a country where nothing is familiar. This is the time when many new expats (I include myself in this group) find themselves in tears in the middle of a metro station because some minor mistake or mishap is the last in a long list of tasks that haven’t gone quite the way they expected.
So how do you motivate yourself to keep moving forward with all the things you need to get done, when pretty much everything you feels difficult?
1. Team up with someone else who’s new. You may not offer each other much in the way of help but you’ll be experiencing the similar things at similar times. You’ll be able to cry on each others shoulders and maybe one day soon (I know it can be hard to imagine), laugh about your mistakes.
2. Don’t be shy about asking people who have lived in your community for a while for help to get things done. You don’t have to learn everything the hard way – every expat has been where you are now and most are happy to pass on their knowledge and experience.
3. Give yourself goals for accomplishing the tasks which are outside your comfort zone. Continually putting yourself in the situation of feeling helpless because you’re struggling to accomplish tasks that you could do with your eyes shut in your home country can be soul destroying. Give yourself a goal to accomplish each day based on how ready you feel to take on the challenges.
4. Acknowledge your achievements. It can be easy to look back and minimize what you have done because you’re measuring it against the benchmark of how easy it would be in your home country. Recognise the challenges that make the task more difficult in your new country and celebrate overcoming them.
5. Enlist the support of your partner and help him or her to understand the challenges of the things you are doing so that he/she acknowledges the achievement too. The last thing you want to see after telling your war story of how you negotiated the local systems to pick up your residence permit at the town office is that look that says “So what’s the big deal about that”
Be kind to yourself and, over time, you’ll find that all the things you found difficult at first become as familiar and simple as they were in your home country.
Don’t get too comfy though. Once you’ve got the basics ticking along, part of the richness of living in another country and culture is to keep experiencing it on new levels and to do that you might find yourself once again stepping outside your comfort zone.
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